It seems like just about everyone is trying to add podcast host to their resume these days. Whether it be a spliced audio of a creator sharing a controversial take, an intriguing storytime, or breaking down the hottest internet drama, our social media feeds are overflowing with clips from influencer podcasts.
Although podcasting has been around since the early 2000s, only in the past few years has the medium really become a cultural phenomenon (one of the few positive things to come out of COVID, tbh). Nowadays, there are over 400 million listeners and around 2 million indie podcast shows out there – that means tens of millions of episodes all up.
Many of us have supported TikTok creators, Instagram stars, and YouTubers as they dip their toes in the podcasting world (unless, of course, they fall under the “alpha male” category). But as the podcasting industry booms, pop culture enthusiasts wonder: Do all influencers need a podcast? And how long can this craze possibly last?
In a recent episode of Anything Goes titled “it feels like everyone has a podcast these days,” Gen Z golden girl, Emma Chamberlain, takes on this topic. As a YouTuber and podcaster, Emma explains how starting a podcast is relatively accessible where pretty much anyone with a microphone and an opinion can give it a go.
“It [podcasting] doesn’t require a lot of materials, it doesn’t require a lot of experience, it doesn’t require a lot of training,” she says. “All you really need is a recording device … you need a microphone… and then you need to find a website that can help you distribute your podcast, and there are so many of those available.”
And while Emma started Anything Goes as a self-proclaimed “talker,” she goes on to explain that editing audio content is far easier than a YouTube video.
Take a moment to consider Emma’s editing style, and you’ll understand why. The videos that propelled her to viral stardom were all over-edited and fast-paced (Think classic Emma Chamberlain lore, a.k.a the Sister Squad and Coachella content). Her instinctual style was defined by rapid-fire jump cuts, slow-mo zoom-ins, and real-time footage of her editing while lounging in bed in a hoodie.
Since then, Emma’s approach to editing has evolved. Her most recent video series, “summer in europe, 2022,” is far less jittery and less edited. Opting for aesthetic montages of zoomed-in nature shots rather than fast-moving clips, it’s clear that her content has matured.
Nevertheless, Emma’s original hyper-produced editing style lives on in the world of YouTube. As Jonah Engel Bromwich writes for The New York Times, Emma successfully created an “entire subgenre of videos that mimic her style, and a host of YouTubers who talk, or edit, just like her.”
While this content style is entertaining, expecting influencers to churn out over-edited videos all the time is a lot. Most of these creators are just regular people who happen to blow up for their personality, sense of humour, or fashion, but this doesn’t mean they are professional editors. Emma even admitted that it took her 30 hours to edit her videos back in 2019.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder that podcasting has lured content creators away from social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram. For Emma, she can just chat away on a topic – often having done research before – without having to worry about perfecting every second of footage.
“The video portion of a podcast … is very one-dimensional, whereas a YouTube video is very visually stimulating,” Emma tells her listeners. “Editing something visual and making it entertaining is much more complicated and challenging than editing somebody’s stream of consciousness or someone telling a story.”
That said, podcasting is now the trendiest way for content creators to take control of their audience for a low cost and high reward. Emma herself noted that the growth of podcasting across the creator economy primarily comes down to some sort of “domino effect.” But this is also something we have seen before.
Cast your mind back to 2015. You couldn’t walk into a bookstore without seeing Tyler Oakley’s Binge or Zoella’s Girl Online all over the shelves – not to mention, The New York Times best sellers list.
This was the first time a significant class of influencers created content beyond the classic social media platforms. And it was practically infectious. We saw YouTubers of every digital niche rush to sign book deals.
In a video by commentary creator Drew Gooden, he breaks down the phenomenon and categorises the typical YouTuber books.
“There are three different types of YouTuber books, one, where you cover your life story in excruciating detail.. number two, there is the tongue-in-cheek advice book… and third, there is the rare fictional YA [Young Adult] novel,” he says.
While some influencers have kept pumping out books to diversify their content and broaden their audiences, a quick search will show that it is far less popular than it once was. As Chris Stokel-Walker points out in a Medium piece, “more than one [YouTuber] book a week” was published in 2015 and 2016. But fast forward to 2019, and the number of books written by content creators plummeted to 20 per year.
By this point, it became clear that pop culture enthusiasts were getting tired of constantly purchasing books by creators – especially when we consider the price point.
Though many of us are happy to support our favourite creators as they embark on new projects, when it comes to paying for content – written or not – social media users remain sceptical. We’ve been spoiled by free content provided by influencers over the years, thanks to the historically cost-free nature of social media platforms (even though this might be shifting slowly). This attitude, however, isn’t something that bodes well for companies trying to sell books written by content creators.
And although publishers faced the same problem in 2015, the culture around consumption has changed online. We were willing to cash out on just about anything an influencer created back then. But having since been burned by content creators time and time again, things have shifted. Taking this into account, a podcast is a perfect and (often) free way for influencers to provide insight into their lives with their followers – much like the classic YouTuber book – and still fit in with the culture of 2023.
So, if YouTuber books walked so influencer podcasts could run, one question remains: will these podcasts have the longevity their paper counterparts lacked? Only time will tell.